Oroville Mercury-Register

Church emerges as nexus in exorcism death

- By Jakob Rodgers, Summer Lin and Aldo Toledo

A small, nondescrip­t church in San Jose has emerged as a connecting thread between last month’s kidnapping of a San Jose infant and an alleged exorcism that killed a 3-year-old girl, whose September death has been ruled a homicide.

In late April, the Iglesia Evangelica Apostoles y Profetas church was swarmed by police during an 18-hour long search for a 3-monthold boy, according to the church’s landlord. It was the second time in seven months that police had descended on the church over an endangered child.

In the earlier incident, newly reviewed court records reveal, the child — 3-year-old Arely Naomi Proctor — died after family members starved and asphyxiate­d her for hours in an attempt to rid her body of “evil spirits.”

The death was ruled a homicide by the Santa Clara County coroner’s office but was never made public by San Jose police. The girl’s mother, Claudia Hernandez, 25, has been arrested and charged with assault on a child resulting in death, a felony.

Many troubling questions remain about the killing, including why the two other people suspected of participat­ing in the apparent exorcism — Hernandez’s father and the church’s leader, Rene Huezo, and her brother — have not been charged.

Santiago Garcia, who owns the house that the church uses for worship, said he was outside when the exorcism happened but didn’t realize what was going on inside until police arrived — an experience that left him rattled.

“The grandpa told me they were praying, and they think that by praying, the Holy Ghost will come and save her,” said Garcia, 52. “The mom said she was trying to squeeze her body to bring her demons out. I can’t believe she said that. It’s very awful. Very, very awful.”

According to court records, Hernandez told police she started to believe her daughter was possessed on Sept. 23, 2021, when the girl would “wake up and scream or cry periodical­ly.” That night, Hernandez gathered with her brother in a bedroom at her house and prayed for the girl while withholdin­g food from her.

Before sunrise the next morning, Hernandez and her relative took Arely to the church and began the alleged exorcism, court documents said. They were joined by Hernandez’ father, who is not named in the documents. But the church’s landlord identified him as Huezo, the church’s pastor.

Hernandez tried to force the girl to vomit, at times going so far as to stick a finger down the girl’s throat and squeeze her neck, believing it would drive any spirits from her daughter’s body, according to the court documents. All three people — Hernandez, her father and her daughter’s uncle — took turns trying to force Arely to vomit, alternatin­g positions by holding her neck, her abdomen and her legs, the documents say.

Arely died around 6 to 6:30 p.m. that night — about 12 hours after arriving at the church, Hernandez told investigat­ors. Still, Hernandez waited an hour or two to call 911 and only did so at the urging of family members, the documents said. Emergency workers found the girl lying on the floor, and there was no evidence that anyone had tried to resuscitat­e her, investigat­ors reported.

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner later ruled the death a homicide by means of asphyxia due to suffocatio­n, resulting from combined mechanical asphyxia and smothering. The medical examiner also found Arely had gone about 21 hours without food and only had about 6 ounces of water to drink in that time.

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